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Anti-gay bias found in Pentagon ‘Don’t Ask’ survey

Activists divided over whether gay troops should participate

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A recently issued Pentagon survey asking service members about their thoughts on repealing “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” is inspiring consternation among LGBT advocates who say the questions have an anti-gay bias.

The survey was issued last week and is intended to gather perspectives from 400,000 non-deployed active duty service members on lifting “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell.” The results of the survey are aimed to help inform a Pentagon working group that’s developing a plan to implement repeal of the 1993 law banning gays, lesbians and bisexuals from serving openly in the U.S. military. The group’s work is due Dec. 1.

The survey was created and administered by the research firm Westat in conjunction with the Pentagon Working Group, and, according to Servicemembers United, came at a cost to taxpayers of $4.4 million.

A copy of the survey obtained by the Blade and other media outlets is 32 pages. The survey uses the term “homosexual” interchangeably with the term “gay or lesbian” in its questioning.

One question asks responders if they “currently serve with a male or female” service member that they believe to be gay or lesbian.

Other questions address “If Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell is repealed, how, if at all, would the way your family feels about your military service be affected?” and “Have you shared a room, berth or field tent with a Service member you believed to be homosexual?”

Another question asks service members how they would respond if they were assigned to share bathroom facilities or an open bay shower with an openly gay or lesbian person. Possible responses include “take no action,” “use the shower at a different time than the Service member I thought to be gay or lesbian,” “discuss how we expect each other to behave and conduct ourselves” or “talk to a chaplain, mentor or leader about how to handle the situation.”

No question on the survey asks service members about their sexual orientation or asks them whether they think “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” should be repealed.

In a statement, Alex Nicholson, executive director for Servicemembers United, said imaging a survey with “such derogatory and insulting wording, assumptions, and insinuations” on any other minority group is impossible.

“Unfortunately, this expensive survey stokes the fires of homophobia by its very design and will only make the Pentagon’s responsibility to subdue homophobia as part of this inevitable policy change even harder,” he said. “The Defense Department just shot itself in the foot by releasing such a flawed survey to 400,000 servicemembers and it did so at an outrageous cost to taxpayers.”

Nicholson cited as among the flawed aspects of the survey the use of the term “homosexual” and a focus on potential negative aspects of repeal, with little attention to potential positive aspects.

He also noted what he called a “repeated and unusual suggestion” that a service member may need to talk to military comrades and leaders about appropriate behavior and conduct.

Michael Cole, a Human Rights Campaign spokesperson, also expressed concern about the questions, but said the survey is important for the Pentagon working group to complete its examination on implementing “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” repeal.

“While surveying the troops on the issue like this is problematic from the start and the questions exhibit clear bias, the fact remains that this study exists,” Cole said. “We urge the [Defense] Department to analyze the results with an understanding of the inherent bias in the questions and use it as a tool to implement open service quickly and smoothly.”

According to Reuters, Geoff Morrell, a Pentagon spokesperson, addressed the notion that the survey had anti-gay bias at a press conference last week, saying he “absolutely, unequivocally” rejects the accusations as “nonsense.”

“We think it would be irresponsible to conduct a survey that didn’t address these kinds of [privacy-related] questions,” Morrell said.

Morrell reportedly added that more training, education or facility adjustments may be needed required to prepare the U.S. military if “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” is repealed.

One LGBT advocate familiar with the working group, who spoke on the condition of anonymity, said the Pentagon doesn’t intend to make the results of the survey public once they are compiled. Still, the advocate noted that the Defense Department expects they will be leaked or known through the Freedom of Information Act.

Aaron Belkin, director of the Palm Center, said the survey is sending a “complicated mixed message” with regard to “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell.”

On one hand, Belkin said, the survey is “is part of an education process” in which the Defense Departmant is “just starting to talk with the troops and hear from the troops” about the impact of repeal. Still, Belkin noted that the Pentagon is asking questions about LGBT people that wouldn’t be asked about other minority groups.

“You would never ask a survey question [such as] what would it be like to share a tent with a Chinese soldier, or would you take orders from a Catholic officer, or how would your husband or wife feel if you lived on post next to a Jewish family?” Belkin said. “And the reason we don’t ask questions like that is because those questions, by their very nature, constitute the group you’re asking about as a second-class citizen.”

Belkin said he didn’t think male service members bunking with female troops would be an appropriate analogy for the survey questions because that isn’t as germane as serving with people of different racial or ethnic backgrounds.

“The troops are already living next to and serving with and showering with and sharing tents with and doing everything with gays,” he said. “This is not a change that is any different from civilian society. It would be a change if we were asking them to shower with and share tents with women.”

Belkin said that advocates shouldn’t be focusing on the survey, but on an upcoming “leadership moment” in which the president and defense leaders would have to certify that repeal should happen.

“The question is not, ‘Does the survey say 46 percent will share a tent or 42 percent will share a tent?’” Belkin said. “That’s not what this moment is about. This moment is about whether leadership steps up and certifies that it’s time for repeal and implements non-discrimination — that’s what we should be focusing on.”

SLDN to LGBT troops:
Don’t take this survey

Also sparking debate among advocates is whether LGBT service members would be at risk of being outed under “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” if they participated in the survey.

Servicemembers Legal Defense Network issued a statement July 8 warning LGBT service members about a potential risk if they participate in a Pentagon survey over “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell.”

Aubrey Sarvis, SLDN’s executive director, said his organization “cannot recommend” that LGBT service members “participate in any survey being administered by the Department of Defense, the Pentagon Working Group, or any third-party contractors.”

“While the surveys are apparently designed to protect the individual’s privacy, there is no guarantee of privacy and DOD has not agreed to provide immunity to service members whose privacy may be inadvertently violated or who inadvertently outs himself or herself,” he said.

The statement says SLDN asked the Pentagon working group for information about the survey, including the survey texts, possible certificates of confidentiality, and whether the Pentagon could guarantee immunity for people inadvertently outed by the surveys. According to SLDN, the Pentagon was unable to satisfy this request.

Sarvis advised LGBT service members who participate should do so in a way that doesn’t identify their sexual orientation.

In contrast to SLDN, Nicholson issued a statement encouraging LGBT service members to take part in the study.

“Servicemembers United encourages all gay and lesbian active duty troops who received the survey to take this important opportunity to provide their views,” Nicholson said.

Nicholson added his organization is “satisfied” sufficient safeguards are in place to “protect the confidentiality of any gay and lesbian servicemember who would like to fully and honestly participate in this survey.”

Cole said HRC likewise is encouraging LGBT service members to take part in the survey.

“It is critical that voices of lesbian and gay service members are included in this study and we feel that the privacy safeguards are sufficient to maintain anonymity,” he said.

Nicholson told the Blade that as part of its contract, Westat has to “strip out information about survey respondents” before the company delivers the information to the Defense Department and “destroy” any personally identifying information.

“They cannot contractually give DOD any personally identifying information about any of the survey respondents,” Nicholson said.

At a press briefing last week, Defense Secretary Robert Gates also maintained that LGBT service members wouldn’t be in danger of discharge if they participated in the study.

“I strongly encourage gays and lesbians who are in the military to fill out these forms,” he said. “We’ve organized this in a way to protect their privacy and the confidentiality of their responses through a third party, and it’s important that we hear from them as well as everybody else.”

The LGBT advocate familiar with the Pentagon study, who spoke on the condition of anonymity, said a member of the Defense Department working group found SLDN’s response “jaw-dropping.”

“He has complete faith that the agreement they have with their third-party vendor, which is administering the survey, the anonymous drop-box option, and the other pieces of the survey that are designed to protect the anonymity of respondents are pretty air-tight,” he said.

The advocate said he was told if gay or lesbian troops don’t respond, it would remove a significant number of service members from the sample who would respond favorably to repeal.

On the other side, the advocate said, the Marine Corps and religious groups are “really making a major effort” to get anti-repeal comments to the Pentagon working group.

“The responses that they’ve gotten thus far have been overwhelmingly anti-repeal, and the attempt by SLDN to keep gay service members from responding is not going to help,” he said.

Belkin said the Palm Center is deferring to SLDN on whether taking the survey would be safe for LGBT service members and he had no recommendation for service members. Still, he noted that the Palm Center has an assessment of the risks.

“On the one hand, we think the Pentagon has actually been pretty careful about dividing privacy protections, and so we think that the risk of participation is minimal, but at the same, we don’t think it’s zero,” Belkin said.

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1 Comment

1 Comment

  1. Tim

    July 14, 2010 at 11:31 am

    It figures Gates and the other military brass would pull a stunt like this, and no doubt they will use this poll to justify not moving ahead with the repeal of DADT. This why Congress should go ahead with repeal and not worry about the bogus military study of the repeal, as it was always a delay tactic. Repeal now! President Truman didn’t wait for the military’s approval before intigrating the units, and Obama and the Congress shouldn’t wait before acting now.

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West Virginia’s capital bans conversion therapy for LGBTQ kids

Conversion therapy is widely opposed by prominent professional medical associations including the American Medical Association

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The City of Charleston, West Virginia waterfront (Photo Credit: The City of Charleston)

CHARLESTON, W.Va. – The City Council of West Virginia’s capital city became the first municipality in the state to enact an ordinance banning the widely discredited practise of conversion therapy. In a 14-to-9 vote, the council passed the ordinance Monday to protect LGBTQ youth from the practise.

Conversion therapy is widely opposed by prominent professional medical associations including the American Medical Association, the American Psychological Association, and the American Academy of Pediatrics. The proposed ordinance carries a fine of up to $1,000 for violations.

“All of Charleston’s children deserve love and respect for who they are, and no one should be in the business of trying to shame or humiliate teenagers out of being LGBTQ,” said Andrew Schneider, executive director of Fairness West Virginia. “Our city’s medical and faith communities came out strongly in support of this bill to ban the dangerous and discredited practice of conversion therapy, and I congratulate members of city council for bravely approving it.”

“The Trevor Project is thrilled to see historic action being taken in West Virginia to protect LGBTQ youth from the dangers of conversion therapy. This discredited practice is not therapy at all — it’s been debunked by every major medical organization and shown to increase suicide risk,” said Troy Stevenson, Senior Advocacy Campaign Manager for The Trevor Project. “We are hopeful that this victory will help catalyze the passage of state-wide protections in the Mountain State, ensuring that no young person in West Virginia is subjected to this fraud at the hands of mental health providers.”

 A total of 20 states, as well as the District of Columbia, the Commonwealth of Puerto Rico, and 94 municipalities (mostly located in Florida, Ohio, Pennsylvania, Wisconsin, Michigan, and Minnesota), have banned the practice of conversion therapy on minor clients. Minnesota and Michigan’s Governors earlier this year signed executive orders that prohibit state funds being expended on the practise.

Research Findings:

  • According to The Trevor Project’s 2021 National Survey on LGBTQ Youth Mental Health, 13% of LGBTQ youth reported being subjected to conversion therapy, with 83% reporting it occurred when they were under age 18. LGBTQ youth who were subjected to conversion therapy reported more than twice the rate of attempting suicide in the past year compared to those who were not.
  • According to a peer-reviewed study by The Trevor Project published in the American Journal of Public Health, LGBTQ youth who underwent conversion therapy were more than twice as likely to report having attempted suicide and more than 2.5 times as likely to report multiple suicide attempts in the past year.
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HRC sues Tennessee over bathroom bill as school year starts

“The state’s political leaders are making Tennessee a dangerous place for our daughter, & other children like her.”

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Estes Kefauver Federal Building & Courthouse, Nashville Tennessee (Photo Credit: U.S. Courts)

NASHVILLE – The Human Rights Campaign, (HRC) has filed suit in the U. S. District Court for the Middle District of Tennessee challenging the Tennessee law that denies transgender students, faculty, and staff access to the bathroom, locker rooms and other sex-segregated facilities consistent with their gender identity. 

The suit filed Tuesday by the Washington D.C. based LGBTQ advocacy group joined by the law firms of Linklaters and Branstetter, Stranch, & Jennings PLLC,  is on behalf of two Trans students currently enrolled in Tennessee schools and alleges that the law violates Title IX, the 1972 federal law that protects against sex discrimination in education.

HRC in a press release noted that its federal suit was brought on behalf of 14-year-old Alex* and his parents, Amy A. and Jeff S., as well as 6-year-old Ariel* and her parents, Julie and Ross B.

“Alex is excited to start high school this fall where he will be an honor student. His family relocated to Tennessee in 2018 to build their ‘forever home’ in an incredibly supportive and tight-knit neighborhood and Alex takes pride in being involved in his community and has created strong friendships among his peers at school.”

We didn’t know we had a trans child when we relocated to Tennessee—if Alex had come out to us before the move, we wouldn’t have come here. It makes me so angry that our elected officials have chosen to target trans kids. If lawmakers were to take the time to get to know my son, they would see that he is an amazing, smart, caring, creative person who has so much to offer. Alex just wants to be a regular kid. He should be able to look forward to starting high school without the added layer of anxiety about something as basic as using the bathroom

Amy and Jeff

He came out as transgender before the 7th grade, however, in 7th grade he was not allowed to use the boys’ restroom. Instead, Alex was forced to either use the school nurse’s private bathroom or the restroom that corresponded to his gender assigned at birth—not due to statewide legislation, but instead due to the school policy. Both options were alienating and isolating for Alex who instead stopped drinking liquids at school to avoid having to use the facilities.

Due to COVID-19 pandemic-related issues, Alex transferred to a private school for 8th grade that affirmed his gender identity, including permitting access to the boys’ restroom—Alex enjoyed a great year, without incident. He is also looking forward to starting high school at the public school near his home, but due to Tennessee’s anti-Trans bathroom law, He will again be forced into using restrooms that are stigmatizing or forgo using the bathroom altogether.

To protect Alex, Amy and Jeff are considering moving from their beloved community and leaving their ‘forever home’ behind out of fear for Alex’s safety at school and emotional wellbeing, the statement concludes.

In the case of the second plaintiff, HRC noted: Similar to Alex, Ariel’s family built their ‘forever home’ from the ground up in a neighborhood they fell in love with and that fills Julie, Ross, and Ariel with happiness and friendship.

Ariel began expressing her gender identity at 2 years old and when she was nearing 4 years old, Julie read the children’s book “I Am Jazz,” to Ariel that tells the story of a transgender girl. When the main character explains that she “has a boy body with a girl brain.” Ariel immediately lit up with excitement and eagerly told her mother, “that’s me, momma, I have a boy body with a girl brain.”

Since Ariel began her social transition at 4 years old, her classmates, their parents, teachers and school administrators have only known Ariel as her authentic self. When she was enrolled in kindergarten, her school was receptive and understanding of her gender identity and has largely protected Ariel from stigmatizing experiences.

In anticipation of Ariel starting 1st grade at a different school this fall, Julie reached out to the principal to discuss accommodations for her daughter.

Since Tennessee’s bathroom law is enacted, Ariel will have to use the boy’s restroom or the private nurse’s bathroom despite only ever using the girl’s restroom. Due to her young age, Ariel does not understand the law’s ramifications or why she is being told to use the boy’s bathroom.

The state’s political leaders are making Tennessee a dangerous place for our daughter, and other children like her. We are extremely worried about her future here, and the bills that are being passed have put us in panic mode. They are attacking children that cannot defend themselves for what appears to be political gain over a non-existent problem. We wish our leaders would take the time to speak with transgender youth and adults—instead, their fear of the unknown is unnecessarily leading their actions and causing irreparable harm to these children

Julie and Ross

Julie and Ross are also considering moving out of Tennessee due to these anti-transgender laws out of fear for their growing daughter, the statement concluded.

Under Title IX of the Education Amendments of 1972; Title IX expressly prohibits discrimination on the basis of sex in federally funded education programs. In June the U.S. Education Department announced it would expand its interpretation of federal sex protections to include transgender and gay students. The new policy directive means that discrimination based on a student’s sexual orientation or gender identity will be treated as a violation of Title IX.

The lawsuit also alleges that the law violates the Equal Protection and Due Process Clauses of the U.S. Constitution. Earlier this month, the U.S. Supreme Court’s decision to deny certiorari in Grimm v. Gloucester County School Board left in place a federal circuit court decision recognizing the rights of transgender students under the Equal Protection Clause and Title IX.

In July a federal judge blocked a new law in Tennessee that required businesses and other entities that allow transgender people to use the public restroom that matches their gender to post a government-prescribed warning sign.

“This law is bad for businesses in Tennessee, and most importantly, harmful to transgender people,” said Hedy Weinberg, ACLU of Tennessee executive director. “We are glad the court saw that this law is likely unconstitutional and hope that the state gives up the wasteful effort to defend discrimination and a violation of the First Amendment.”

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Federal prosecutors declined to prosecute 82% of hate crimes

DOJ report says ‘insufficient evidence’ was main cause

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U.S. Department of Justice

Federal prosecutors, who are referred to as United States Attorneys, declined to prosecute 82 percent of 1,864 suspects investigated for violating federal hate crime laws in all 50 states and D.C. during the years of 2005 to 2019, according to a newly released report by the U.S. Department of Justice’s Bureau of Justice Statistics.

The 15-page report, released on July 8, cites insufficient evidence as the reason suspects were not prosecuted in 55 percent of the federal hate crime cases. The report says “prioritization of federal resources” was the reason for a decision not to prosecute 15 percent of the suspects. 

It says 13 percent of the suspects were not prosecuted by U.S. Attorneys because the suspect was “subject to the authority of another jurisdiction,” and another 13 percent were not prosecuted because the federal government lacked legal jurisdiction to file a hate crime charge. 

The report, entitled Federal Hate Crime Prosecutions, 2005-2019, does not disclose the category of the victims targeted for a hate crime by the suspects whose cases were or were not prosecuted. 

In its annual hate crimes report as required under the U.S. Hate Crimes Statistics Act, the FBI provides information on hate crimes based on a victim’s race/ethnicity/ancestry; religious affiliation; sexual orientation; gender identity; disability; and gender.

The FBI’s most recent hate crimes report released in November 2020, and which covers the year 2019, shows that hate crimes based on a victim’s sexual orientation represented 16.8 percent the total number of hate crimes reported to the FBI for that year, the third largest category after race and religion. 

The FBI report shows that 4.8 percent of the total hate crimes reported to the FBI in 2019 were based on the victim’s gender identity. 

These figures suggest that at least some of the hate crimes cases that U.S. Attorneys declined to prosecute were cases involving LGBTQ people as victims. 

The Bureau of Justice Statistics report also does not disclose whether or how many of the suspects who were not prosecuted for a hate crime violation were prosecuted for the underlying criminal offense that was investigated by federal prosecutors as a possible hate crime.

Law enforcement officials, including D.C. police officials, point out that a hate crime is not a crime in and of itself but instead is a designation added to an underlying crime such as assault, murder, destruction of property, and threats of violence among other criminal offenses. Most state hate crimes laws, including the D.C. hate crimes law, call for an enhanced penalty, including a longer prison sentence, for a suspect convicted of a crime such as murder or assault that prosecutors designate as a hate crime. 

Tannyr M. Watkins, a spokesperson for the DOJ’s Bureau of Justice Statistics, told the Blade in response to a Blade inquiry that the bureau did not have access to data it received from U.S. Attorney’s offices throughout the country about whether hate crime suspects were prosecuted for an underlying crime when the U.S. Attorney’s declined to prosecute the suspect for a hate crime.

The Bureau of Justice Statistics report released last month says that out of the 17 percent, or 310, of the hate crime suspects who were prosecuted between 2005-2019, 92 percent, or 284, whose cases were brought before a U.S. District Court, were convicted. And 85 percent of those convicted received a prison sentence, the report says. 

“Forty percent of the 284 hate crime convictions during 2005-2019 occurred in federal judicial districts in six states – New York (30), California (26), Texas (19), Arkansas (15), Tennessee (13), and Pennsylvania (12),” the report states. It says that during this 15-year period all but 10 states saw at least one hate crime conviction. In addition, there were two federal hate crime convictions in D.C. during that period, according to the report.

The U.S. Attorney’s Office for the District of Columbia, unlike U.S. Attorneys in the 50 states, prosecutes criminal offenses under both D.C. law and federal law under D.C.’s limited home rule government. In the 50 states, most hate crimes are believed to be prosecuted by state and local prosecutors.

Former D.C. U.S. Attorney Jessie Liu has stated that the D.C. Office of the U.S. Attorney has prosecuted most criminal cases in which a hate crime arrest was made but the office dropped the hate crime designation due to lack of sufficient evidence. Liu said the office has continued to prosecute the suspect for the underlying charge, which often included a charge of assault or destruction of property.

The Bureau of Justice Statistics report says U.S. Attorneys use five federal hate crimes related statutes to prosecute suspects for hate crimes. Among them is the Matthew Shepard and James Byrd Jr. Hate Crimes Prevention Act of 2009, which is the only federal hate crimes law that includes protections for LGBTQ people.

LGBTQ activists hailed the Shepard-Byrd law as an important breakthrough because it authorizes federal prosecutors to prosecute anti-LGBTQ hate crimes in states whose hate crimes laws do not cover hate crimes based on the victim’s sexual orientation or gender identity.

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